Located right at the border with Slovenia, Trieste is one of the most interesting cities to visit in Italy. For centuries the place was at the crossroads, under different rules and influences that created a peculiar cosmopolitan city and its unique vibe that visitors can enjoy today.
But still, not that many people visit Trieste (in comparison with other popular destinations in the area) and I believe they miss a lot.
I’ve been to Trieste twice and I know I will be returning there in the future again as the city is pretty amazing and I couldn’t get enough of its stunning architecture, distinctive atmosphere, and all the amazing things to do in Trieste.
If you plan a trip to Trieste I put together this Trieste guide that will help you enjoy the city to the fullest.
Where is Trieste
Trieste, the city of over 200 thousand inhabitants and the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, is located in the very north-east corner of Italy, literally right at the border with Slovenia.
The nearest capital is Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) which is less than 100 km away from Trieste. Other “nearby” popular cities include Venice (160 km away), Milan (400 km away) or Bologna (300 km away).
Why visit Trieste
Trieste is probably the most cosmopolitan and multicultural city in Italy.
Even if the first settlements in the area date back to ancient times (and you still can find numerous remnants of those in the city), most of Trieste’s history is connected with Austria. During the Habsburg rule, Trieste was the main port of the Austrian empire, its window to the world. Many of the grand Trieste monuments are from that era and are a perfect testimony to the times of prosperity.
Trieste became part of Italy only in the 20th century and the city you can visit today is this unique blend of different cultures and influences. The city is packed with monuments and attractions but is also a good base to explore more of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region as well as nearby Slovenia.
But one of the best things about Trieste is its cosmopolitan, distinctive vibe that is so different from the rest of Italy.
How to get to Trieste
Trieste is easily reachable from numerous destinations in Italy, as well as from abroad.
There are frequent direct trains from Udine and Venice as well as fast trains from Rome, Florence, Milan, and Turin. There are also daily direct connections with Slovenia and Austria (Vienna).
You can also reach Triest by bus from some places in Italy as well as from Slovenia (including Koper which is just 25 km away) and Croatia (mostly Istria).
Trieste also has its own international airport with flights from both Italian and European airports.
How many days for visiting Trieste
If you want to see the city properly you need at least two days in Trieste. This way you can also see attractions located a bit away from the center and enjoy the amazing local cafe culture.
Add some extra days for day trips from Trieste as there are a few really fine places to visit nearby.
Where to stay in Trieste
Since Trieste is a popular place and a large city itself, there are many accommodation options to choose from. I suggest staying in the center so you are close to most of the attractions and you can fully enjoy the city.
Here are recommended places to stay in Trieste:
- Residence Theresia- Tailor Made Stay (8.7/10)
- Crops City Stay (9.3/10)
- 9 stanze – Boutique Rooms (9.3/10)
- and many more!
How to get around Trieste
You can reach all the centrally located attractions on foot and well, wandering around is actually one of the best things to do in Trieste.
If you need to get to places a bit further away you can use the public transport system with frequent buses covering the whole city. The fare is 1,25€, the tickets can be bought from kiosks or machines and need to be validated when entering the bus.
You can also use the hop-on-hop-off bus that will take you to all the best Trieste attractions – click here for details and to get the ticket.
Things to do in Trieste
And now, without any further ado, let’s talk about the best things to do in Trieste, in no particular order.
Stop for a drink in a historical cafe
Before you start a proper Trieste sightseeing, sit down in one of the many historical cafes to soak in the atmosphere of the city and its history.
Trieste is known for the unique cafe culture that is a bit different than in the rest of Italy. Here cafes are a testimony of the Habsburg past since the city was the main harbor in Austria-Hungary, the window to the world, and the first entry point of coffee brought to the empire from all over the world (Austria-Hungary was known for its amazing cafe culture).
Today, many historical cafes are a reminder of that times. In fact, coffee consumption is twice as high as the average number in Italy and the locals have their own slang when ordering coffee (i.e. “Capo in B” is “cappuccino”).
The first cafe was opened in 1768 and since then many cafes appeared in the city. Some of them have their own coffee brands and blends and you can wander from one cafe to another and try different drinks everywhere. Many historical cafes have also a beautiful vintage interior that makes spending time there even more relaxing.
Some of the best and most important historical cafes in Triest are Caffè San Marco, Caffè degli Specchi, Caffè Tommaseo, or Antico Caffè Torinese.
Marvel at the stunning Piazza Unità d’Italia
The main square of Trieste, Piazza Unità d’Italia, is also where you will find the most spectacular architecture in the city. As soon as you stop at the square, your jaw will surely drop at all the beauty around.
Located between the seaside and the castle hill, Piazza Unità d’Italia was built during the Austria-Hungary rule and it is still believed to be the largest European square facing the sea.
The most important institutions in the city are located here: the city’s municipal building, the Prefecture of Trieste, and the former head office of Italia Marittima, just to name a few. They all are placed in stunning old palaces, which facades are packed with details.
Piazza Unità d’Italia is a real architectural gem of the city, I spent so much time looking at the buildings and admiring their beauty. The square is often used for various events (which was sadly the case when I visited hence I couldn’t fully grasp it) and is one of the Triest top places to visit, to observe the people and to enjoy the city’s vibe.
You can learn more about Piazza Unità d’Italia as well as about other important places in Trieste and its Habsburg past on the highly-rated tour – click here for details and to book the place.
See the picturesque Canal Grande
One of the most picturesque (and Instagrammable) places to visit in Trieste is Canal Grande, located halfway between the train station and Piazza Unità d’Italia.
It dates back to the mid-18th century and was built to help the boats delivering goods arrive closer to the center to unload. Originally, the canal was even longer than today, reaching past the church of Sant’Antonio (that is now a very distinctive spot in the city’s scenery).
Buildings along the canal include churches and palaces and are among the most interesting you can find in Trieste, most of them dating to the first half of the 19th century. There are also a few bridges that help cross the canal and some interesting statues, like James Joyce.
Canal Grande is yet another of Trieste’s highlights that you shouldn’t miss!
Admire the panorama of Trieste from Castello di San Giusto
The best place to admire the impressive panorama of Trieste is Castello di San Giusto, located a short uphill walk from the center of the city.
The first fortified settlement here was built already in ancient Roman times but the castle we can visit today dates back to the 16th century. When visiting the castle you can see an interesting collection of ancient artifacts but the main reason to come here is for the panorama of Trieste.
From the fortification walls and bastions, you can admire the breathtaking vista of the whole city, that’s where you can fully appreciate the beauty and greatness of Trieste. It’s definitely worth paying the small entrance fee to see this view!
Admire the beautiful Trieste waterfront
Trieste waterfront is one of the best places in the city for a leisure stroll. It seems like no one is in hurry here, everyone seems to enjoy to the laid-back vibe of the place.
That’s also where you will find some of the most impressive buildings in Trieste and some fancy palaces that are a true testimony of the wealth and importance of the city.
The only downside of the waterfront for me was that there were not enough benches around as I would have gladly sat down there to enjoy the place more.
Visit Museo Revoltella
If you have time to visit only one museum in Trieste, it must be Museo Revoltella.
This collection of modern art is located in the beautiful palace from 1858 as well as neighboring buildings. Museo Revoltella is home to the collection of art (including Italian and European artists), furniture, and other items left by Baron Pasquale Revoltella at the end of the 19th century.
Besides art and stunning interiors, you can also admire a beautiful panorama of the city from the museum’s rooftop.
Relax in Villa Revoltella Park
Another place worth visiting in Trieste that is connected to the Revoltella family is the Villa Revoltella Park, located on the hill on the outskirts of the city. It is named after Pasquale Revoltella who, in his will, donated the park to the city, ensuring that it will always be open to the public.
The green oasis is a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is divided into three parts and besides the beautiful garden, you can also find there a church and a chalet residence.
Witness the past at Teatro Romano
Right in the heart of Trieste, you can find probably the best testimony of the city’s great past – the Roman Theater. The ruins date back to the 1st or 2nd century AD and the theater could fit around 3500 spectators in its glory times.
For centuries it was hidden by the newer buildings in the city and it was brought to light only in 1938 (although its existence has been known since 1814). You can find the Roman Theater at the side of Via del Teatro Romano, not far from the Piazza Unità d’Italia.
Even if these are only ruins, the place is still impressive, especially in these modern surroundings. All the old artifacts that were found on site are kept in the museum in Castello di San Giusto.
Visit Trieste Cathedral
When visiting Trieste Castle don’t miss the Cathedral, located just a few steps away. The first religious site was built here already in the 6th century, but the current Romanesque/Gothic structure dates back to the early 14th century.
Even if the building isn’t very rich in decoration, it still is very impressed with the old elements (such as the original mosaic floor) from the time when the church was completed.
At the end of the 19th century, the cathedral was granted the title of the basilica minor, which significantly increased its rank.
Be amazed by jellyfish
Each year in springtime many jellyfish arrive on the shores near Trieste but when I visited the city in early May 2022 the waters in the center (including the Canal Grande) were literally packed with these creatures. And not small ones but giant jellyfishes that could as well be seen in the aquarium.
I was mesmerized, never seen so much maritime beauty in the wild (although in the middle of the big city).
When you visit Trieste in the springtime, be sure to check the surrounding waters for jellyfish too as they surely are amazing! There might not be such an invasion as I witnessed but even one or two of these water animals can be fascinating.
Stroll down Molo Audace
One of the most popular places for a stroll in Trieste is Molo Audace pier, extending over 200 meters into the sea, not far from Piazza Unità d’Italia.
It was built in the place where the San Carlo ship sunk at the end of the 18th century originally the pier was 95 meters long, extended to the current shape during two reconstructions. At first, it was named after the said ship but after World War 1 the locals started calling the place Molo Audace, after the warship with the same name that arrived at Trieste harbor.
Today the pier is a busy spot where locals walk around or hang out with friends. You should definitely stroll Molo Audace too as you can admire a beautiful panorama of the Trieste waterfront and the main square from there.
Peep into the Old Harbour
Trieste has one of the largest and most important harbors on the Adriatic Sea. It was also the main port of the Austrian Empire when the city was part of it.
There is a part of the harbor that dates back to these times, currently closed to the public but you can still peep into it from the nearby parking lot.
The Old Harbour in Trieste was built between 1868 and 1887. There are several large buildings that still wear all signs as well as the old railway line with some rusty trains.
This must be a wonderful place for some urbex exploration but unfortunately, I didn’t find any way to get it (although I didn’t look close enough, I admit).
I’m not sure what the city’s plans are for this area but I hope that even after a possible reconstruction the Old Harbour will keep its vintage charm as it has now.
Admire the stunning architecture
One of the things I enjoyed the most about Trieste is the stunning architecture in the central part of the city. It’s a peculiar mix of influences from Austria and Italy as well as, thanks to its important port, from all over the world. Some of the incredible buildings reminded me of a few grand structures in Madrid or South America.
The most impressive buildings are located along the waterfront, with numerous palaces and buildings of public use, but even if you go a bit away from the seaside, the architecture still can impress.
When wandering around it’s worth looking up a bit to spot fine details of houses built in art nouveau, eclectic or neoclassic styles – they will help you to appreciate Trieste’s architecture even more.
Visit Miramare Castle
One of the biggest Trieste attractions, Miramare Castle, is located a bit away from the center but is easily reachable by public transport (trains and buses).
This beautiful and majestic castle was built in the mid-19th century right on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, for Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Habsburg (a younger brother of Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria). The castle is surrounded by an equally beautiful park with rare and exotic plants and trees that were brought from all over the world here by the Archduke himself.
Miramare Castle was a favorite home of the Archduke and his wife but they could live here only for 4 years, before leaving for Mexico where Ferdinand Maximilian was crowned and shortly after executed. According to the legend, the devastated ghost of his wife still wanders around the park.
When visiting the castle, it’s worth going inside too to see the original interiors that are a perfect example of the 19th-century aristocratic lifestyle.
It’s best to get the skip-the-line ticket to Miramare Castle – you can do it here.
Say hello to Sissi
The most beloved ruler in Austrian history, Empress Elisabeth known also as Sissi, is until today a popular figure, known by people beyond the region of Central Europe. There were numerous movies and books telling the story of her life (and more are soon to come).
When traveling around the former Habsburg Empire you will easily spot memorabilia dedicated to Sissi and her husband, emperor Franz Joseph. And Trieste is no different.
Across the train station, at Piazza Della Liberta, you will find a fairly modest monument dedicated to the Empress, with just one word, “Elisabetta”. Originally it was erected in that place in 1912 but removed nine years later and for most of the 20th century, it was kept in storage, returning to its original spot only in 1997.
See the impressive lighthouse
One of the most recognizable Trieste landmarks, visible from most parts of the city, is the Victory Lighthouse. Even if it is located a bit away from the center, it’s really hard to miss it.
The impressive lighthouse, with a height of 68 meters, is among the tallest lighthouses in the world. At first, it was planned to build the lighthouse near Pula in current Croatia but eventually Trieste and Gretta hill was chosen due to their perfect height and solid foundations of the former Austrian fort.
The lighthouse was opened in 1927 and is still working today. The place is dedicated to those who died at the sea during WW1 and commemorates the Italian victory.
It is possible to visit the Victory Lighthouse but opening times are rather limited so better check them in advance.
See Roman ruins next to the castle
When visiting the castle don’t miss the Roman ruins displayed on the square in front of it. There are fairly many of them, of different kinds, shapes, and conditions. They date back to ancient times when Trieste was known as the Roman colony of Tergeste and are yet another testimony of the long history of the city.
Wandering around the ruins and checking all the details can give you a great sense of the old times.
Find the Roman arch
On the way up to the castle, turn into one of the backstreets to find the ancient Roman Arco di Riccardo. The impressive structure dates most likely to the 1st century AD, to the times of Tergeste as it was the gate in the city walls back then.
What makes it special is the surrounding – the arch is located on a small square, surrounded by modern buildings. It creates a big contrast between old and new and is a symbolical bridge between Trieste’s ancient and recent history.
See beautiful churches
While Trieste cathedral is the most impressive of the sacral buildings in the city, there are more interesting churches that are worth seeing.
One of the most characteristic Trieste landmarks is the New Church of Saint Antonio, located at the end of the Grand Canale. Dating back to the mid-18th century, this is one of the largest churches in Trieste, designed in the neoclassical style.
Next to it, you will find Saint Spyridon Church, the Serbian Orthodox church from the mid-19th century. This beautiful building doesn’t really fit the area but is a great testimony of the multicultural past of Trieste.
On the way to the castle, don’t miss the Parish Church of Santa Maria Maggiore from the 17th century, beautiful both outside and inside.
These are only a few of the beautiful churches you can find in Trieste. There are more of them, each special and worth visiting in its own way.
Go for a tram ride
The tram line in Trieste is among the most unique ones in the world and every fan of public transport can’t miss it. The line was opened in 1902 and connects central Trieste (Piazza Oberdan) with the village Villa Opicina in the hills above the city.
What makes this tram line unique is the mix between a typical tram and a funicular, in the more steep parts of the line. Still today you can use the tram car with the number “1” (or “401”) which was used when the line was opened and is the oldest tram that is used in Europe.
After the 2016 accident trams were suspended but after locals’ petition, they are back in use and are a great, unique attraction to add to your Trieste itinerary.
Try local food
Like everywhere in Italy, the food in Trieste is excellent. What makes it unique is the blend of influences from all over the region and a mix of Austrian, Italian and Slovenian cuisine.
When visiting Trieste be sure to try some of its local dishes, especially jota (a stew), chifeletti (a dough-like mixture of mashed potatoes, flour, butter, and eggs), gulasch alla Triestina (a local variation of the Hungarian goulash minutes the peppers), and – for the dessert – Strucolo de pomi (the local apfelstrudel).
There are many restaurants all over the city, mostly family-owned, so no matter which one you choose, you should expect an exquisite culinary experience.
You can also join the highly-rated tour to learn more about local cuisine and even have lunch/dinner in the local’s home – click here for details and to book the place.
Visit Grotto Gigante
One of the places that you can’t miss when visiting Trieste is Grotto Gigante, located just outside of the city.
This spectacular cave was included in the 1995 Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest show cave (in 2010 the record was broken by the cave in France) and that already is the reason itself to visit this wonder of nature.
The central part of the cave is 107 m high, 65 m wide and 130 m long and its grandness surely can make your jaw drop. When planning your trip to Grotto Gigante be sure to take some warmer clothes with you as the inside temperature is around 11C.
See Trieste synagogue
The Trieste synagogue was built between 1908 and 1912 when the city was still under Austrian rule. It was designed to serve the local Jewish community and replaced four smaller synagogues operating in the city. The synagogue was closed in 1942 and later devastated by Nazis but never fully destroyed.
What makes the synagogue in Trieste special is the peculiar mix of architectural styles which were supposed to connect the ancient Holy Land with the modern-day Roman and Habsburg empires.
The synagogue is open to the public and it’s worth visiting it inside too to see its beautiful interior.
Admire the monumental Santuario di Monte Grosso
When looking at the panorama of Trieste, you will quickly spot the monumental triangular building, located on the hills above the city, on mount Grisa. That’s Santuario di Monte Grosso, built between 1963 and 1965.
The shape of the building is supposed to resemble the letter “M”, the symbol of Mary, the mother of Jesus. This is the most impressive example of brutalist architecture in Trieste and one of the most amazing churches ever built in that style.
From the church, you can admire the stunning panorama of the Bay of Trieste and the Adriatic Sea.
Go for day trips
Due to its location, Trieste can be a great base to explore area and go for day trips not only within Italy but also abroad, to Slovenia and Croatia.
Some of the best places you can easily visit from Trieste include Gorizia, Udine, Muggia, or Aquileia.
If you don’t mind venturing a bit abroad then Slovenia is literally a stone’s throw away from Trieste and since both countries are in the Schengen you won’t even notice the border. Some of the best places to visit in Slovenia, such as Koper and Piran on the seaside, Skocjan Caves, Postojna Cave, or Ljubljana, are easily reachable from Trieste as a day trip.
You can even go to the Istria region in Croatia (although that’s not in the Schengen zone anymore so you need to go through passport control at the border).
Here are some recommended day trips from Trieste that you can book:
- Lake Bled and Ljubljana Tour
- Postojna Cave & Predjama Castle
- Piran and Slovenia Coast Tour from Trieste
- Trieste: History of Prosecco and the Karst Region
- Lipica Stud Farm and Škocjan Caves from Trieste
Final thoughts on visiting Trieste
I honestly can’t recommend visiting Trieste enough. The city is vibrant, has its own unique charm, is full of history and beautiful architecture and attractions, and offers more than just monuments. Being in Trieste is simply pleasant and it’s really not hard to enjoy and fall for this place.
While I think Trieste itself is a perfect destination for the city break, I know it’s not exactly on the main tourist routes. But if you are visiting Slovenia or Venice do yourself a favor and include Trieste in your itinerary. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!
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